IBOX review (Part 1 – hardware)

Introducing the IBOX, by Itead Studio:

The IBOX, in all its shiny glory

I was lucky enough to receive an “engineering sample” of the IBOX to take for a test-drive. All of the images in this post link to full-resolution versions if you would like to take a closer look.

The IBOX is essentially an Allwinner A20 development platform, much like the Cubieboard 2 or the OLinuXino or the now unavailable Marsboard and various others. It features the dual-core A20 processor, 1GB RAM, 4GB NAND flash, a dual colour LED connected to GPIO, an infrared receiver, a micro SD card slot, 4x USB ports (of which one supports OTG), and HDMi port (full-size, yay!), TOSLINK optical audio, and 100mbps ethernet.

IO options
The front, with uSD slot, infrared receiver and dual-colour LED

These are features which you might find on any other A20 development board, but there are a few things about this box that set it apart.

Firstly, the design of the box itself. Given the nature of development platforms, it is unusual to have it all caged up instead of on an open PCB showing off its guts. However, this presents the opportunity to use the device as a TV box as well. It is true that you can get cases with the other boards, but this one comes with the box. And the box is very nice – it is made of aluminium which gives it a very solid feel compared to the typical plastic boxes. The top is made of super-polished plastic and is EXTREMELY shiny. This attracts fingerprints, but if you can keep your hands off it then it shouldn’t be an issue and it will reward you with a perfect reflection of your face.

Now, the reason that this box is not an issue is because they have provided a 32pin header on the side of the box.

Expansion header – This has been fixed! More information in the next post

This header allows access to all of the GPIO, the SATA port, the serial port, analogue audio etc. The pinout can be found here. Backers of the Indiegogo campaign will receive an extension board which converts the serial port into USB, and provides connectors for the SATA port as well as GPIO pins in an Arduino-style layout. This allows for the use of standard Arduino shields.

Some people have complained that the serial port will not work, but I have found that these pins are just a little too small for standard 2.54mm female connectors. Of course, this won’t be an issue for those using the extension board. All of the debug output is on UART0 which is on pins 9 (TX) and 10 (RX). Serial is 3.3V, 115200 8N1.

The inside:

The bottom of the board

The bottom of the case is held on with 4 easily removable screws. When you remove the plate, this is the site you’ll be greeted with. Not much going on here, except for the 10/100mbps Realtek PHYceiver. Since the bottom plate is also made of aluminium, I thought it could have done with some feet. There is nothing on the bottom to stop if from scratching whatever surface it lies on, although sticky feet are about the cheapest thing you could possibly buy for this so it isn’t a big issue. It is possible that production units will include rubber feet.

The top of the board

This is where things start to get exciting. While an A20 development board isn’t exactly a new thing, there is one really cool thing that Itead has done. As you can see, this is made up of two distinct boards. The mainboard, and the baseboard. The mainboard contains the processor, RAM, NAND flash, power management IC and everything else required to have a working computer. The baseboard contains the IO and some supporting circuitry.

The idea here is that you could design your own baseboard to suit your own needs and use the mainboard with any design. Alternatively, the IBOX itself can be upgraded with new mainboards as new models become available. For example, the Allwinner A31.

The mainboard (top)
The mainboard (bottom)

Ultimately, this is a well-constructed, well-priced piece of kit which will be sure to be a fierce competitor in the embedded PC and TV box market. The fact that it is modular makes it very attractive, as it is upgradable and takes a lot of the hard work out of designing your own mini embedded PC. I will cover the software side of things in part 2, coming very soon!

Comments and questions are welcome.

10 thoughts on “IBOX review (Part 1 – hardware)
  1. Thanks for a detailed review in 3 parts and I also ordered for IBOX.
    I would like to know whether this has a built-in WI-FI or just ethernet?
    Does Android 4.2.2 that is on NAND has pre-installed Play Store?
    Is there any chance in using this for Casting from desktop, similar to Chromecast?

    -p

    1. Hi Pk
      The IBOX has built-in 100Mbps ethernet, but no internal WiFi.
      There are pads and a cut-out on the board which suggest that a WiFi chip and antenna could be added later, but no hardware presently (see bottom-left of the underside of the baseboard)
      Also, a comment from the Itead Studio blog about changes to the board:

      “A cutback has been added to the board edge so that it is easier to take out the PCB and to let the Wifi antenna of future versions go through”

      The pre-installed Android does include the Play Store (and you could easily add other Google apps with the gapps package.)
      There is also an app for Miracast, but I haven’t gotten it to work successfully with my Nexus 4 – might just be a configuration issue, I will have to try again 🙂
      Thanks for the comment.

      1. @michael, thanks for your reply with the details. Your review has covered all the details and thanks for posting an honest review.
        I’m eagerly waiting for my iBOX and also, I’m looking for a forum where we all can discuss various things based on hardware, software, issues, etc.

  2. Very nice BUT it won’t do anything without a power supply!

    Do you have details of the correct power adapter?

    Voltage – amps
    Barrel size
    Centre Polarity

    ????

    1. You’re right, it probably isn’t very useful without power 😛
      I put this information in the wiki, but not the review.
      Power is supplied by an MP2307 switching regulator. It is configured to provide 5V, and theoretically should accept anything from around 7V to 20V.
      The bundled adapter that I received is 9V 2A. Not sure of the jack dimensions, but it is very generic and standard polarity (positive on the pin)

      1. Thanks. It seems the 70 usd price does NOT include a power supply. I think that should have been made clear in the indiegogo page.

        1. Do you assume this or have you received yours without a power supply?
          The review sample came with a 9V power supply.

          1. I haven’t received anything yet!

            I asked ITEAD and they said the power supply is NOT included – a bad decision on their behalf, I think.

            I’d rather have the device and power than the device and add-on board without power!

  3. To be clear, there were NO power adapters included with the iBox devices. The problem is, (I’m still looking) I have not found any information regarding the plug polarity. Positive of Negative center pin. I will resort to disassembling the device to determine the correct polarity but WTF, such a simple piece of information… or AT LEAST silk screen it on the case.

    1. Hi Chris

      Thanks for the comment. The good news is that the power adapter is as generic as they come. Anything from 9V to 20V should work (although I personally recommend 12V 2A) and the polarity is normal (centre pin positive)
      I have power supplies with selectable polarity, but to be honest I’ve never come across any devices which use the inverted option. To the point where I usually assume that it’s centre pin positive if it isn’t explicitly marked.

Comments are closed.